Heath Bintliff: Statistically speaking, Derrek Lee just needs some luck

Derrek Lee, one of the two old veterans that the Orioles signed this offseason to stabilize the lineup and inject the offense with some punch, is hitting an abysmal .222/.300/.284 thus far with only three extra-base hits. His .584 OPS is the worst among the regulars in the lineup.

But fear not, I bring you good news about Lee and his apparent struggles: He’s actually hitting much better than his stat line shows.

Looking up his batted ball data on FanGraphs.com, Lee’s Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) this season shows his stands at .274. Generally, a batter will have a BABIP of around .300 and Lee has a career BABIP of .321. This suggests that things will balance out for him, hits will fall in and his batting average and general offensive production will rise.

But you can’t look at BABIP in a vacuum. You have to look at other batted ball data. Is a guy hitting more ground balls than normal? More infield flys? Is there evidence that the batter is really hitting worse than usual?

A quick way to do this is to look at the player’s Line Drive Percentage (LD%) If a guy is hitting a bunch of line drives, eventually those balls will start to drop in. If a guy is hitting a bunch of loud outs, his luck will change at some point. LD% is a good predictor of BABIP and in turn, batting average.

Lee’s career LD% is 21.4 percent. His LD% for 2011 is 22.2 percnt. He is hitting as well as ever.

A quick way to calculate a batter’s expected BABIP (we’ll call it xBABIP) is just to add .120 to the line drive percentage. That would give Lee an expected BABIP of .342 right now. Remember, his actual BABIP is just .259 right now. That’s a huge swing.

But wait, there’s more! Lee is hitting as many fly balls as he usually does. However, his home run per flyball rate (HR/FB) is a measley 3.6 percent. His career HR/FB rate is 16.2 percent. League average for good hitters is roughly 10 percent. Even if we assume diminished power due to age, Lee is due to have some of those fly balls start finding their way over the fence.

The last thing I checked was his walk and strikeout rates. His walk rate is down just a little off his career marks but his strikeouts are down, too.

There are not red flags here. If Lee’s strikeout rate had spiked or his line drive rates were down, there would be some concern going forward. As it stands, he’s still hitting the ball hard but he’s hitting them right at the fielders or is being robbed by great defensive plays.

But Lee’s luck is bound to change. Even last night, he had a couple balls fall in and went 2-for-5, so it may be happening already. All of these factors will soon balance out and Lee should resemble the hitter the Orioles thought they signed this offseason.

Heath Bintliff blogs about the Orioles at Dempsey’s Army. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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